Glasgow - City of Sculpture
By Gary Nisbet
Sir John Steell

Born in Aberdeen, he trained as a wood carver in Edinburgh with his father, a carver and gilder, and at the Trustees Academy, before studying and working as a sculptor in Rome.

After returning, he became the most important sculptor of his generation in Scotland and operated the first sculpture foundry in the country.

Much of his prodigious output of public monuments and portrait busts are in Edinburgh. These include the statues of Sir Walter Scott, Scott Monument (1846); Allan Ramsay (1850); Alexander Taming Bucephalus (1832, erected 1883); and the equestrian monuments to the Duke of Wellington (1848-52), and the Prince Consort (1876).

Outwith Scotland, he was responsible for the statues of Lord Dalhousie, Calcutta (1864), a seated statue of Robert Burns for Central Park, New York (1874) and its copy in Embankment Gardens, London (1883).

Despite his fame and friendship with John Mossman in Glasgow (Mossman's statue of George A. Clark, Paisley was cast at Steell's Grove Foundry, in 1884) he received only one commission for a monument in the city, the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders Monument (Crimean War), in Glasgow Cathedral (1859).

However, the city once posessed his earliest arhitectural sculpture: a group representing the Goddess Ceres with a widow, an orphan and a rustic youth, which had been carved for the Scottish Widows Fund Life Assurance Society in Edinburgh, and relocated to their Glasgow Building at 141 Buchanan Street, in 1860 (dem. c. 1973) (Glasgow Gazette, Statuary, 9 June, 1860, p. 6).

Another early Edinburgh work, The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, a tympanum group for the Standard Assurance Company, 1-31 George Street (1839, repeated at their Dublin Offices, 1868), was later copied by James Young as a pediment group on the firm's Standard Buildings, 82-92 Gordon Street, Glasgow, 1890.

Steell was knighted in 1876, after the unveiling of his monument to the Prince Consort in Edinburgh.

He exhibited at the RSA , 1827-80, and the RA , 1837-46.

He died in Edinburgh and is buried in the Old Calton Cemetery.


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